Exotic species are recognized as one of the most widespread and serious threats to the integrity of native wildlife populations and natural ecosystems.
As a descendant of the European and African wild cat, the domestic cat is an exotic species to North America. The estimated numbers of pet cats in urban and rural parts of the United States have grown from 30 million in 1970 to nearly 65 million in 2000.
A recent poll suggested that only 35% of pet cats are kept indoors at all times. Domestic cats are a significant source of mortality for wildlife.
Impacts on Wildlife
Domestic cats are a significant source of mortality for wildlife. Studies on food habits of free-ranging cats show that some individuals kill more than 100 wild animals each year. Types of wildlife killed by cats typically include small mammals (60-70%), birds (20-30%), and amphibians, reptiles, and insects (10%). Although quantifying widespread impacts on wildlife is a difficult task, some experts estimate that cats kill hundreds of millions of birds and more than a billion small mammals annually in the United States.
Predation by cats has been implicated in the decline of several threatened and endangered species, especially where their numbers are maintained at artificially high levels through supplemental feeding of feral colonies.
What Can You Do to Help?
Reducing negative impacts of free-ranging pet cats will require responsible human behaviors such as keeping pet cats indoors, supervising or confining their activities while outdoors, and spaying or neutering animals that are not kept for breeding purposes. For the sake of both wildlife and pet cats, the Department believes these behaviors should be encouraged through educational programs, reasonable restrictions, and other incentives.
Traditional approaches such as adoption programs have shown modest success at reducing numbers of feral cats and should continue.
Feral and Free-Ranging Cats on State Sites
Feral and free-ranging cats pose risks to wildlife and the health of humans. The Department opposes establishment of colonies of feral cats on properties owned, managed or leased by the Agency. The Department does:
Support educational programs that encourage pet owners to spay or neuter their cats and pet adoption programs that spay or neuter cats before placing them for adoption.
Support educational programs and materials that call for all pets to be kept indoors, in outdoor enclosures, or on a leash when they are not actively engaged in sporting or animal husbandry practices.
Support the development and dissemination of sound, helpful information about negative impacts of feral and free-ranging cats on native wildlife, risks to outdoor cats, and responsible care of pet cats.
Support educational efforts that encourage the agricultural community to keep farm cat numbers at low, manageable levels and use alternative, environmentally safe rodent control methods.
Recognize that cats as pets have a long association with humans, and that responsible cat owners are to be encouraged to continue caring for the animals under their control or transfer them to a licensed animal control facility or animal shelter rather than releasing them into the wild.
Prohibit the release of domestic and feral cats on lands owned, managed, or leased by the Department.
Humanely capture domestic cats found on lands owned, managed, or leased by the Department and transfer them to licensed animal control facilities or animal shelters.